A Japanese court ruled Wednesday that the government’s ban on same-sex marriages is unconstitutional, recognizing for the first time the rights of gay couples in the only Group of Seven country that does not legally recognize their union.

Although the court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claim to be compensated by the government, the precedent is a major victory for homosexuals and could affect similar pending complaints across the country.

The Sapporo District Court noted that sexuality, like race and gender, is not a matter of individual preference, therefore prohibiting gay couples from receiving benefits that heterosexual couples do cannot be justified.

“The legal benefits derived from marriage should benefit both homosexuals and heterosexuals equally,” the court said, according to a copy of the summary of the ruling.

Under Japanese law, marriage must be based on “mutual consent of both sexes,” which is interpreted as allowing only unions between a man and a woman.

Although awareness and support for the LGBTQ community is on the rise in Japan, discrimination persists. Homosexuals cannot inherit houses, properties or other assets from their partners, nor have parental authority over their children.

Many municipalities have enacted “association” ordinances to make it easier to rent apartments, but they are not legally binding.

In a society where the pressure to conform to the norm is great, many hide their sexuality for fear of prejudice at home, at school or at work. Transgender people also have difficulties in a society where gender identity is very specific.

The movement for equal rights in the LGBTQ community has stalled because those who do not comply have been mostly marginalized.

In the country there are four other lawsuits similar to Sapporo pending in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka.

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